County commissioners, school board discuss school funding

By Amanda Dodson - adodson@thestokesnews.com

Teacher supplements, student enrollment decline, and a possible tax increase were topics discussed in a joint meeting held with Stokes County commissioners and the school board on Wednesday, June 13.

The board of education is requesting $13,825,296, an increase of more than $2 million compared to last year’s current expense budget.

Superintendent Dr. Brad Rice explained the substantial surge is due to increased rates of fixed costs, which the school system has no control over.

The funding would also cover teacher positions, matching technology grants, utility costs, bus operations, school resource officers and an estimated $309,000 to fund a full four percent supplement for school employees.

Commissioner Ernest Lankford acknowledged the state legislature cuts and the effect it’s having on the local school systems budget.

“I feel like the school board is going to have to problem solve some things,” he said. “I’ve been noticing some line items on your requests that you went through and I feel like you have a lot of room to negotiate. So, you’re going to have to go back and make some hard choices.”

Lankford questioned the schools decline in students.

“It’s hard to get a definitive answer because when someone leaves they’re not required to give you one,” the superintendent said. “There’s a lot of reasons. There’s religious reasons, whether it’s private school or homeschool. Some just want a different experience. When we find out those things, we try to address those issues. We just celebrated graduating classes last week that had great experiences. There were a lot of scholarship dollars and a lot of kids accepted into great universities.”

Vice chair of the school board, Sonya Cox, added she’s found that North Carolina has made it easy for families to homeschool and it’s a win-win for the state.

“The more kids that are homeschooled, the less money the state has to pay us. Plus, they have to pay the state a fee to homeschool,” she said.

Cox addressed the “elephant in the room,” and said the proposed four percent supplement, currently based on 2013-14 salaries, has been in place for 13 years.

“The four percent supplement is a huge thing to our employees.”

There’s been some bad press in North Carolina regarding teacher pay and it’s created a problem and not as many people are going into education, Cox said.

“It’s going to be harder for us moving forward to attract teachers and be competitive. We want the best, the high performing, cream-of-the-crop in Stokes County and it’s going to be hard if we don’t have a true four percent,” she said. “I think we’ve seen in this county, people want progress and they want change. When you’re talking to people, there are some who say they don’t mind seeing a little tax increase.”

Commissioner Ronda Jones said she’s been in support of the supplement for years and Commissioner Jimmy Walker recognized other counties were paying a significantly higher percentage amount.

“I don’t like smoke and mirrors,” he said. “If we agree to give a full four percent supplement, we don’t need to have a four percent salary based on four or five years ago. We need to give a supplement of today’s salary. Otherwise, it comes across like were playing games. You’ll get no arguments from me.”

Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.

By Amanda Dodson

adodson@thestokesnews.com